I am genetically incapable of enjoying an “epic” love story of the kind in Titanic or The Notebook, but I do think that the connection that we weird monkeys call “love” is a glue that can makes a dark story that much deeper and more complex. In books and on screen, I like seeing flawed struggling characters try to navigate the turns of their messed-up existence while driven in part by a passionate affection towards one another.
Here are 10 of my favorites.
Leaving Las Vegas – Nicolas Cage rightfully won an Oscar for his performance in this. An alcoholic and a prostitute, attached by a mix of passion and desperation while spiraling down due to their self-affirming drug of choice.
Requiem for a Dream – The characters might not be as complex as Leaving Las Vegas, but the self destruction is more complete. A reminder that heroin is a different beast than alcohol. But the point of the movie is that everyone has an addiction (legal or not) that can potentially drag them to the bottom.
Casino – De Niro and Sharon Stone. The classic story of trying to make something work against the momentum of human nature. This story has been told in my many ways, but I just enjoy the hell out of this one. Joe Pesci makes this movie that much more perfect.
Good Will Hunting – This is the least mentally unstable movie on the list, and the closest to a “chick flick”. To me it’s a reminder that a girl can ground a messed-up mind, especially one full of big self-centered ideas.
True Romance – You and me against the world, with guns. Like most movies on this list, I can’t quite explain what makes it so much better than any other in its genre, but certainly the following Christopher Walken scene with Dennis Hopper (the main character’s father) doesn’t hurt. The idea that love and family comes before EVERYTHING else is moving especially when put in such clear terms.
Taxi Driver – Another movie with De Niro, and another movie with a prostitute. I’m starting to think that formula is drugs + prostitution + love + blood = profound statement about human nature.
Brown Bunny – I would never recommend this movie to my friends because it’s basically 1.5 hours of nothing happening. Roger Ebert called it the “worst movie in the history of Cannes”. But to me it’s one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had watching a film. It was the right time, the right mood, the right mindset for me. My girlfriend at the time was sleeping next to me, it was 3am, and I sat there patiently waiting for something to happen. I know I’m not alone in thinking this, as this movie is loved by many. If nothing much happens on screen for 20, 30, 40 minutes, you begin to put your own thoughts into the characters mind. Silence is powerful. But it does require patience.
Sweet and Lowdown – By far, Samantha Morton is my favorite actress ever since I saw her in the movie adaptation of Jane Eyre (1997) in high school. I think the book is terrible frankly, but her ability to convey emotion was stunning from that movie to her sex-driven tortured soul in “Under the Skin” to the simple quiet love of “Sweet and Lowdown” with Sean Penn.
Scent of a Woman – Pacino’s greatest performance. The tango scene alone is f’ing brilliant. It won’t make sense out of context, but if you’ve seen the movie, it’s one of the greatest 2 minutes of film ever (see below). This is the only movie on the list that does not actually involve a woman.
Secretary – I watched this movie twice in my life. First at around 20 and then again at around 27. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of weird forms of love and obsession, and went from finding the movie creepy to finding it a touching love story of two charmingly f’ed-up individuals.